A major defection from Syria?

AFP reports: Syrian regime stalwart and former defence minister Mustafa Tlass has arrived in Paris with one of his sons but they are not defecting, opposition representatives told AFP on Monday.

Tlass arrived in France from Syria with his businessman son Firas, the Paris-based opponents said. His other son Manaf, an officer in the Syrian regime’s military, is believed still to be in Damascus.

Mohamad al-Rashdan, member of the National Committee for Support of the Syrian Revolution, told AFP: “He has been in France for five days after having an argument with Assef Shawkat, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law.”

Shawkat is the current deputy defence minister and husband of President Assad’s sister Bushra.

A source close to the Syrian community in exile told AFP: “Tlass and his son Firas arrived in Paris yesterday (Sunday). I don’t think this is a defection. He will be here awhile, but it is with the regime’s authorisation.”

Other Syrian regime opponents confirmed Tlass’s presence in France but denied reports that he was about to announce his defection or that he was meeting with opposition members.

A Sunni Muslim, Tlass was Syrian defence minister from 1972 to 2004, having befriended Bashar’s father and predecessor as Syrian president, Hafez, at military academy.

Joshua Landis quotes an anonymous source saying:

Word in Lebanon is that Mustafa Tlass was trying to recruit people here to overthrow Bashar, and the regime found out about it. They let him and his one son leave, to France, but the other son is in the Army and they are basically keeping him as a hostage to prevent Tlass from joining the rebels.

Landis also posts a letter from one of his readers who recently visited Latakia, Syria’s principal port city.

I am a christian Syrian living abroad. Last month I went back to Syria and spent a week with my parents in Lattakia. Here are some observations.

The son of my 2nd grade teacher is in prison. He was caught distributing pro opposition fliers. A few days ago, his flat burned down and his 3 kids died in the fire. His wife is in a critical condition.

A relative of my family lawyer, a university student was arrested couple weeks ago in Damascus. She was released the day I arrived.

Another guy from our neighborhood, though known to be pro regime, was picked up by the secret police at the university as he was leaving his mid term exam room. He disappeared for 2 weeks. He was just released…. Some name miss match they explained.

I was stopped at the airport. Was called to Damascus for questioning by an officer in one of the security branches. Without my father’s connections I am sure I would ve not been able to get the travel permission and to leave on time. I still don’t know what they wanted from me.

We hear stories about kidnappings taking place in the eastern part of the country near Deir Ezzor, in Homs and on the outskirts of Damascus in exchange of ransom.

Lattakia is one of the cities the least affected by the events. It’s kept under tight control by a strong pro regime presence. The government is doing all it can to show that it’s business as usual. They do amazing cleaning job after each Friday clashes. As I hang out with some friends at a coffee shop in the afternoon, life seems to go on as usual in the busy streets… but something weird is felt in the air… a thick layer of pessimism and anxiety is hanging over the city… everybody feels that it is boiling and it might explode at any moment. You can’t miss the signs:

My high school has become an army base. The main city square, less than 1000 yards from my parents flat and a center of protests in the early days, is now filled with soldiers and sand bags. “Al Assad soldiers” they proudly painted on the walls.

My friends drove me by the Ramel neighborhood. One of the hot areas in town. Army check points with sand bags control all streets entering the neighborhood. “POLICE” is painted on them. We all know it is the army who controls them and not the police.

Gunmen in civilian clothing are present at all hospital entrances. They are there to arrest wounded protesters seeking treatment.

4×4 trucks with armed men and mounted machine guns pass by every now and then.

Electricity is cut off 6 hours a day, 3 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. It is setting the rhythm for business hours. – Today Electricity is off 12 hours a day. it’s on and off every 3 hours.

The price for heating fuel has sky rocketed. The price for cooking gas has doubled. It s cold in my parents and my friends flats. It’s been one of the coldest and rainiest winters in Syria. People wear many layers indoors and sleep with thick wool covers- these are still the privileged neighborhoods. I can’t imagine the living conditions in rebelled areas.

I have just come back from a week stay in Syria. I left as the bombing of Homs was about to begin.

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